Muniz Memorial Classic Preview: Horse-by-Horse Analysis of Saturday's Grade II Race @FG

Jockey Irad Ortiz makes the trip to the Fair Grounds in hopes of bringing Todd Pletcher's prize turf horse, Colonel Liam, home in the Muniz Memorial. See what J.N. Campbell thinks of the duos prospects because others loom...
Jockey Irad Ortiz makes the trip to the Fair Grounds in hopes of bringing Todd Pletcher's prize turf horse, Colonel Liam, home in the Muniz Memorial. See what J.N. Campbell thinks of the duos prospects because others loom...

1 1/8th (Turf), Muniz Memorial Classic Stakes (G2), Purse $300k, 4+

Looking back through the celebrated jockeys that have ridden in the Muniz they include Albarado, Gomez, Espinoza, Castellano, Prado, Velazquez, Rocco, Alvarado, Talamo, Gaffalione, Bravo, Ortiz, and last year’s winning rider, Bridgmohan. If you visit the Fair Grounds Winner’s Circle after this grass event, it means that you guided your mount in a tough contest, through traffic, and across the wire against a quality field. Another great American turf race in 2021 is upon us. 

Now, let’s find out about this full field…


#1 Factor This (Jky: S. Bridgmohan/Trn: B. Cox):

Last year was a tale of 2 distinct phases for this runner from Brad Cox’s midst. He was stellar winning 5/6, including this race last year. As you can see from the PPs he is a frontend, get-to-the-lead type that doesn’t like to share that spot with anyone. If he doesn’t get it or lacks his best fastball, then he is done. Since the BC Mile at Keeneland where he was bested by the Euros, nothing seems quite right. He may be in over his head, even at his home track and as the defending champ. There is just too much firepower aimed at him from the rear that it is hard to envision this rabbit, with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard, getting away.

Grade: B-


#2 Ninety One Assault (Jky: M. Mitchell/Trn: T. Morley):

Here is one of those recent “Non-G” company runners that has displayed moments of brilliance on the turf at several racetracks including FG/Month/Lrl/Aqu. That’s fine experience, but how will it translate to a field that is full of experienced class routers like this one? I think this 8-yr-old gelding out of Arte Schiller possesses nice form, but I question his last race simply because he failed as the heavy favorite. That was a 60k affair, and now moving into the G2 ranks, there are some major sodbusters here that are way more cranked. Tom Morley doesn’t much care for “give” in the ground, but with spotty rain all week, and some possibly scheduled for Saturday, we shall see how this veteran reacts. Maybe Mitch Murrill can guide his mount home, surprising everyone with a win. Not likely…

Grade: C+


#3 Captivating Moon (Jky: M. Pedroza/Trn: C. Block):

Before 13 Feb. it was over a year since this Chris Block horse last saw a turf course. The pasture doesn’t count, though you can see some running without jockeys aboard if you visit. Coming into the prep for this race, Fair Grounds (G3), Block probably was one of the few that thought his entry had a shot. At 44/1, he shocked the faves with a furious late turn. Jockey Pedroza was authoritative in his urging, and certainly we can surmise that he decidedly will not be so high this time around on the tote. I know this 6-yr-old is talented, but I just cannot zero in on just how good? I mean, this group is classier than that last race with so many invaders. He is one to root for, and so is his conditioner, but I am skeptical that he will be able to replicate that performance from last time. Just a note... he is also drawn in the New Orleans Classic (G2) on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see what direction Block goes in.

Grade: B-


#4 Cross Border (Jky: J. Ortiz/Trn: M. Maker):

The first of 3 entrants to ship to the Fair Grounds from their bout last time in the Pegasus World Cup Turf, are going to go at it once again here. The first, a 7-yr-old son of English Channel has major ability and is one of Mike Maker’s top turf routers. That is saying quite a bit considering he trains a number of them. There is no doubt after a 3rd place finish in the PWCT, that this seasoned pro was impressive. That was a strong field, and when you can close like that, it can be a strong weapon. Though he has been short on wins since Saratoga last summer, I think his fitness level coming into this race appears to be high. The cutback in distance is a little shorter than he might like, but with Jose Ortiz riding once again, he should be able to work something out towards the end. This is a turf specialist who has matched up against some of the best in the country—including Sadler’s Joy, Channel Maker, Somelikeitbrown, Largent, and the one drawn next to him, Colonel Liam #5. Probably at this point, one of my top picks.

Grade: A-


#5 Colonel Liam (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: T. Pletcher):

The more-celebrated runner of the 3 from the PWCT might be the greatest Todd Pletcher turf horse since English Channel. That is potentially… potentially… Last time at Gulfstream Park, he lived up to expectations after being given the nod as favorite. I will be honest… I did not think he could do it. The 4-yr-old colt out of Liam’s Map looked like a massive underlay to me. Boy, did he prove me wrong. What a game trip, governed by jockey Irad Ortiz! Once he got him in the clear, it was afterburner time—winning by a neck over his stablemate, Largent. I was hoping that Pletcher might take this talented grass specialist on the road to the Dubai Turf, but running here at the Fair Grounds will make this a great contest, nonetheless. He is quite simply the class of this field. If anyone can beat him, I will tip my cap to them.

Grade: A


#6 Logical Myth (Jky: A. Beschizza/Trn: J. Sharp):

Trainer Joe Sharp has an incredibly consistent turf router in his midst who can rate just off, and who has a stellar closing ability. Since running back at Kentucky Downs in September, this 5-year-old gelding out of Data Link, has done little in the way that is wrong. Graduating nicely from ALLW Co. into “Non-G” action is not easy, and this one has done it with grace, style, and a bit of power. Throughout, Adam Beschizza has piloted him ably, and I have no doubts that he will do a solid job again. Does this entry have what it takes to matchup with the Ortiz Bros. mounts? I am not sure, but he should be around the wire when the time comes.

Grade: B


#7 Two Emmys (Jky: J. Graham/Trn: H. Robertson):

Speaking of English Channel, here is another of his offspring who is hoping to make a splash against much better company. Trainer Hugh Robertson is really going for it, by sending his entry into this race. His major weapon is a record @FG of 5 starts, with 2 wins and 2 second-place finishes. I would like to think that James Graham’s comeback riding during this Meet would help propel this one to the lead by the time the finish rolls around. However, there is nothing easy about this contest. It is G3 company after all, and this “Channel” has not seen it. Very difficult to make a case for backing him, I am afraid.  

Grade: C-


#8 Spooky Channel (Jky: F. Geroux/Trn: B. Lynch):

Nothing like another English Channel drawing into the mix, but this time he is trained by Brian Lynch, who I am glad to see coming to play. This conditioner has sent some wonderful turf horses to the post over the years, and he has a major player for this race. His 6-yr-old gelding rolled into Houston back in January, and he took the John B. Connally Turf Cup away from Mike Maker. That late run he made down the lane was a powerful statement against what was a pretty good field of turf routers. Looking back through his PPs you find some classy competition, and that makes me think that with Pletcher and Maker’s runners taking most of the money in this one, that Lynch could be sitting on a wise guy. If he is suited to longer distances, then this may not be his cup of tea… but, I think he is worth a bet, especially if his odds head towards 8/1.

Grade: B+


#9 Conviction Trade (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: M. Maker):

You know that Mike Maker is known to travel in pairs when it comes to shipping in for major turf races? He is at it again with this son of Exchange Rate. Here is a runner who was part of a claim back in October, and I think Maker is finally getting the sense of where he needs to be spotted. Last time, he sent the horse to Sam Houston to run against Spooky Channel #8 in the Connally Turf Cup. That 3rd place score wasn’t poorly earned. He might appreciate the turn back in distance from 1½ to 1 1/8th this time around. Probably the best news, is that Maker has Joel Rosario aboard, who happens to be in town for some of the other “Features” on the card. That is a major addition. Rosario’s uncanny ability makes him dangerous, and to me besides Castellano, he is the one jockey who can give Irad Ortiz fits. This entry might not be up to scratch with the presumptive favorites, but do not count out a Maker-Rosario pairing…  

Grade: B-


#10 Peace Achieved (Jky: D. Carroll/Trn: M. Casse):

Lately, Mark Casse and Declan Carroll have capitalized on their alliance, and some good runners have scored for them. Now, they are trying to capitalize on that nice 3rd place performance behind Captivating Moon #3 and Logical Myth #6. In the Fair Grounds (G3). That effort was not a stretch by any means, considering that this son of Declaration of War competed at some of the highest turf levels as a 2-yr-old. I think he is perfectly bred for this distance, and he should have no issues improving off that run. The question for me is, do we think Carroll is up to the duties in here against some of the best lawn jocks in the country? I am not so sure. His riding ability is improving, but he still has a long way to go. Maybe he is on the cusp of a major breakout, but it is hard to see it, especially with so many other more accomplished entries showing up in here.

Grade: C+


#11 Olympic Runner (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: M. Casse):

The other Casse entry is a favorite of mine, who I have wagered on both at Woodbine, and at Gulfstream Park. This son of the talented Gio Ponti has his Pop’s versatile style, and late turn-of-foot. Just when you think he is out of the picture, he comes from the clouds with a devastating late kick. What is difficult to understand is how is he going to measure up when it comes to the distance? Sure, last out in the Canadian Turf (G3) @GP, rolled down the lane in customary fashion, and it was not enough to win. That showed nice extension after running in sprints that were all under a mile. I will say this, getting Johnny V to ride him again is excellent, but if he cannot go longer (1 1/8th), he may not have the stamina to compete with some of these professional deep routers. Much do… at a price.

Grade: B-


#12 Pixelate (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: M. Stidham):

Here is the final entrant who competed gamely against that PWCT field back in January. This Mike Stidham-trainee was not as sharp in the end as Colonel Liam #5 or Cross Border #4, but finishing 5th, just 3 lengths off it, was nothing to be ashamed of considering the company. I like the fact that this colt, by City Zip, already has 2 races under his belt here at the Fair Grounds. One of them, the Woodchopper 75k, resulted in a nice win. Don’t forget this one has good bloodlines for grass routing, and he has a resume of classy contests that you need to take notice of when you are doing your own handicapping. Godolphin homebreds are powerful runners, and as an organization, they do not invest in just any horse that comes out of the breeding shed. The greatest news of all… Luis Saez earns the mount, and his riding on the turf is very strong, as far as I am concerned.

Grade: B


Join us Saturday for all of our selections on LA Derby Day! Should be a great set of races from the Fair Grounds!